Gears of War 3

It pains us to say it, but there are developers out there who simply take on projects that are destined to be dire to save having to turf their staff out onto the streets. A fine example are studios signed up to make movie tie-ins on incredibly short deadlines, or asked to make a budget game for peanuts. Then there are studios dedicated to bringing the world the most polished products they can, pushing both the host console and their own technology behind it. Companies like Epic. And we should be thankful they exist.

To the untrained eye, Gears of War 3’s campaign mode is more of the same. Battle hardened Gears fans though will quickly notice all manner of improvements like tweaked animation, improved lighting effects and an increased level of detail. Wondering what the Xbox 360 looks like running at full pelt? This probably isn’t far off. Taking a leaf out of Bulletstorm’s book there’s a score-based arcade mode too, while environments are more sun-soaked than war-torn including a sandy beach and insides of a fancy hotel.

The story rounds off the trilogy, with Marcus Fenix trying to track down his father and carry out his plan to rid the world of both the Locusts and the Lambent. Marcus is joined by his wisecracking stereotypical soldiers throughout, with an early mission filling in the back-story of former sporting legend Cole Train. It’s a fitting conclusion to the trilogy, with a highlight being a Lord of the Rings-style siege set inside a fortress.

There are however a couple of low points that stop it being constantly brilliant – having to search around a dull naval dockyard for spare parts is as exciting as it sounds. The next mission after this does go a long way to making up for it though, being both rather unexpected and a treat for the eyes.

Weapons too have been tinkered with. The Hammerburst has been given a Call of Duty-style iron sight making it one of the most accurate weapons available. There’s also the Vulcan cannon – a weapon so powerful it takes two to carry, with one player holding the cannon while the other follows behind carrying the ammo supply, which has to be fed in by rapidly tapping the A button. The only weapon that feels unbalanced is the One Shot. It’s certainly handy – as the name suggests, it’s able to take down an enemy with one hit – but it feels far too overpowered compared to other weapons.

Of course, there are new enemies to use these weapons on. The drudge can mutate into different forms, the armoured Kantus has to be destroyed with explosives while a centipede-alike adversary only has one weak spot – the tail. Then there are the wild Tickers – parasitic pests that eat any weapons or ammo left laying around unless you put the boot in. The whole of the Locust army and their extended cousins are back as well, including the slightly over-familiar Grinders, Boomers and Wretches.

When Epic first told the world about the new Beast mode, they explained that you’d start off as a Ticker and then come back as a bigger and stronger enemy every time you got a kill. Fortunately this has been changed before release – although you can start off as a Ticker there other Locust soldiers available from the start. Rather than simply being Horde mode from the other perspective, it’s an against the clock affair where you have to kill 12 waves of AI controlled COG soldiers. Health doesn’t regenerate (although the Kantus guards can heal) and most of the Locust can’t use the covering system either. A lack of challenge prevents it from having a great deal of depth – pick a Boomer and you’re guaranteed to get one kill at the very least – but it can be pleasingly chaotic.

Out of all the mutliplayer modes it’s Horde mode that has had the biggest overhaul. There’s more depth here than even in the campaign mode, thanks to a new XP system and the ability to build bases complete with electric fences and decoys to fool the enemy. It wasn’t until five hours of play that we had levelled up enough to place sentry turrets. Kills earn cash, not only used to build the aforementioned, but also to buy yourself back into the game. There’s a bigger variety of levels, including a shopping mall and a dry dock, while the waves now have bonus challenges and bosses.

In team deathmatch AI now fills in when people drop out and wingman (which sees three teams of two battle it out) remains as competitive as ever. If you don’t use a headset while playing this mode then you aren’t going to get very far at all. Gridlock, one of the classic maps from Gears of War 2, makes a reappearance in a redesigned fashion. If you’re a serious Gears of War fan then you will have no doubt had some legendary battles on this map in the past.

Gears of War 3 does plenty of things well, but rewarding the player is something it does exceptionally. As soon as you start your HDD is ransacked to see how far you got in the previous Gears of War games and you’re consequently rewarded with extra weapon skins. There are 32 different characters to unlock in total, in addition to ribbons and medals to earn for completing such tasks as swiftly killing multiple enemies in a row to being the last man standing. A journal keeps track of your progress, so you can see how far you’re off unlocking new characters or shiny medals to show off online.

The difference between GoW 2 and GoW 3 is comparable to the jump between Halo 2 and Halo 3 – there’s a sense of familiarity with the single player mode but multiplayer has been heavily improved. The fact that Halo 2 and Halo 3 were on different consoles simply further highlights Epic’s finesse.

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